Wednesday, July 26, 2006

What is happening at the home front? It seems everyone is well and the garage continues to help lots of people. Gavin reported that he has now two qualified mechanics and one apprentice and that the first stage environmental drilling has been carried out. I phoned the person in charge this morning and found out that the first lab test results are out and that they will be presented to the property managers in a day or so. I understand that there were no serious contaminants found which gives us hope that the whole papertrail can now be completed regarding the handing over of the lease and the sale of the business.
On a more personal score, I can report that my plumbing problems are slowly on the mend so that in the not so far future I hope that my movements are not totally dictated by the location of toilets any more. Sitting around doing nothing certainly helps as well! Evening walks are still a bit of a problem. Our next report will be from the Netherlands. Tomorrow we will drive north, via Switzerland and Liechtenstein direction Germany with my mother's home in Apeldoorn our first call.

How are we camping? There is room for 5 to sleep inside. We generally find a camping place that allows for motorhomes. The 220V will keep the fridge going and recharges many batteries.
We also have a toilet on board. All windows can open with flyscreen or shade. There is a tank with 70 liters of fresh water, an electric pump and another tank for the waste water. The cooker runs on gas, as does the heater (!) and a hotwater system. Sometimes we find a nice spot along the road and we stay overnight right there, but we are cautious about this with some horror stories in mind. The car has a maximum speed of 100 km/h, so we have to mix it with lots of trucks on the autostrada. Some campings are really fancy with shade cloth, as in this picture, but spots are rather cramped. Showers and washing machines are usually provided as are toilets with a varying degree of cleanliness. Internet is generally hard to find unless there is a university nearby or a place specific for backpackers. In Palermo we found one internet cafe with 45 computers, all on broadband. Cost vary from 1 euro per half hour and upwards. International telephone cards are our home lifeline, apart from SMS on my mobile. Sandy found us one which gives us 6 hours of talking at the cost of 10 euros, about 16 A$!

West of Palermo, the capital of Sicily, on the north coast of the island, Sandy and Nicola take us to a National Park with a magic beach. Sandy beaches make the water look green and rocky beaches make the water look blue. The Meditaranean Sea is surprisingly salty and rather warm compared to Cottesloe......
We spent the whole day at the beach and it was as crowded as Zandvoort on a sunny day! (This picture was taken when we arrived early) The rest of the park was closed due to some serious fires. Even when we arrive in the Palermo area we see the side of a mountain full of smoke and helicopters and a fixed wing aircraft take water from the sea to douse the fire.
Nicola's parents live 50 km south of Palermo and we stay two days with them. Once again we are spoiled by the hospitality of our hosts. With Sandy translating and us picking up the rest, we manage to communicate between English, Italian and Dutch.
Sicily has a severe shortage of water. Nicola's parents get water only two hours per day which they can store in a tank. The town rotates its supply every two hours to a different part and the water is pumped from a distant river. Work is in short supply and many jobs are only taken by men. I am thinking of all the Italians who have migrated around the world, looking for a more prosperous country. And to make things worse, in 1968 there was a huge earthquake in Sicily, causing major damage.

Don't you love innovative people? Here is a man selling icecream with squeezed lemons in a huge lemon on a trailer, at the most scenic place you can find. Tourist buses pass every few minutes and people are stopping for the view. On the right Sandy, Nicola and Tanneke. The weather has been hot and very humid at places. We hear that all over Europe older people are dying from the excessive heat.
"Our" campervan is doing well, with windows wide open we keep the breeze going. Nicola is a man with many talents and managed to help with several repairs we had on the way. One of the three batteries died with a dead cell on the autostrada; we were able to change it later with a bit of good luck finding the right size and being able to fit it ourselves. We also tackled and fixed a persistent problem with the 12 volt system that operates the electric waterpump and the inside lights. Apart from an earlier wheel alignment problem, which was fixed with the help of former language student Roman in Switzerland, we have had a good run. We can drive around 600 km on a 70 liter tank, a bit depending on the size of the mountains.

Driving through Italy is a special experience: road rules appear to have no meaning. We saw police cars doing 90 in a 40 zone, with the rest of the traffic. Overtaking any time, anywhere, never mind the white lines or signs and many people don't wear seatbelts although the government is now starting campaigns. We have not seen any major prangs so far, but the statistics and newspapers tell a different story....
On the right is the harbour of Sorrento, south of Napoli. We stayed a few days at a camping and took a daytour to Capri, an island off the coast.
We are travelling together with Sandy and Nicola. They have made our travel program and we have the one exciting day after another. From Bologna we drive south to the "heel" of Italy, then use the ferry to reach Sicily. From there along the east coast of the island with many stops of old cities and ruins from Romans and Greeks. But the absolute highlight was no doubt the Etna vulcano, which right on cue started spewing lava, fire and rocks the day before we arrived, after being dorment for about 5 years! From a distance of 40 km we could see the rocks flying in the air and the red stream of lava going down one side. We drove to the car park, took a cable car further to the top and then there were huge 4WD busses taking groups of 20 even higher, about 300 m from the opening. We walked from there with a tour guide to the edge of the lava stream. With the wind behind us, we could approach the slow moving (1m/sec) lava to about 5 meters and feel the heat, red hot earth, some 10 meters wide. As soon as the wind turned the heat forced us to move away. Meanwhile Etna was spewing rocks every 3 seconds with incredible roaring sound. At one point the wind picked up and we had a sort of lava storm, black dust covering everyone. Days later we are still finding Etna in our hair.....
It makes us think how small and insignificant we really are........The power of fire.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Dongo is a village on the west side of the Como lake in the north of Italy, close to the Alps. We found a family camping and this picture was taken on the other side of the lake; no beautiful sandy beaches, lots of stones, but very deep lakes and magnificent mountains. The roads are narrow and it is hot every day. Siesta suddenly makes lots of sense. In the evening we found a local brass band giving a concert in between the houses and we joined the crowd of locals.

How do you find someone who lives in a flat you have not visited before? Simple, just look for the Aussie flag! Tom and Daniela used this innovative method to direct us. During June/July there were flags everywhere. Our Dutch numberplate and the Australian flags on the back did cause some confusion. In Italy the party is still going for winning the world soccer cup; we saw most of the games and loud car horns and lots of shouting made it clear that also in Switzerland there are lots of Italians!

Hermann and Marlis (language student staying with us a few years ago) took us to Shaffhausen, north of Zurich and showed us the amazing Rheinfall; it may not be as high as some other falls, but it is truly impressive with a waterflow of 1,000 m3 per second and more at times. The sheer power of the water, Europe's main supplier of water and transport, is quite staggering and we were surprised that we had never heard about it.
Where-ever we meet friends, we are overloaded with hospitality and not everyone may want to be put on the web,
so we try to make a selection without spending days to upload pictures and stories. Posting these is very time consuming and sometimes also complicated.
Many keyboards are different and computers do not always have the necessary program to download pictures; internet cafes are often hard to find.
We keep a complete diary for ourselves to revisit later on when we are back in Oz.

With help from Andrea, our Italian AFS student, we can try again to add more news. It may all come out in Italian, not sure yet.
We are staying a few days at his family home and apart from swimming, talking and reading there is the odd roadtest to be done..... No need to state the obvious, we are being spoiled to a very high degree.
There is more traffic on the roads and we saw the beginning of a high speed train track that will run from Rome to Paris.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

We left Bratislava full of wonderful impressions and entered Austria with the plan to see some of Vienna and Salzburg. The larger cities are a serious problem for our campervan since all parking is underground and our height of close to 3.5 m is just too much. In any case we managed some short-term parking and walked around the centre of Vienna and then headed west. Near Linz the autobahn traffic had come to a halt (accident?) while we had just taken a rest on a tree-lined parking place and with food, drinks, books and open windows we were quite happy to spend three hours in relative peace. I think we were the only happy people, everyone else grumbled at the long delay. In the evening we found a beautiful camping place and later that night thunder and lightning came down at the rate of knots..... The next day we visited Salzburg but had to continue to Munchen to be in time to meet Paul and Isabelle who spoiled us with their hospitality. It was short but we were able to catch up with lots of news. Paul and I were in the same class of the HTS in Haarlem between 1965 and 1968 (jeez, that sounds long ago....)
The next day we headed for Switzerland, via a bit of Austria again, where the diesel is a lot cheaper. The car is running like a clock, we get around 10 km from a liter which means that we can drive for almost 700 km before choosing the best place to refill. Europe is becoming more and more as one country with hardly any border checks. So far we only had to show our passports three times and only once did a customs officer want to see the inside of the camper.

We arrived in Lausanne and the Fontana's, former neighbours in Lesotho, again showed us around and offered their homes for us to stay. They also took us to the 2-yearly ex-Lesotho workers reunion, most conversation in French, where we met several people we had not seen for 30 years (and still recognised them!). Lot of great memories surfaced and it was nice to remember the many years of daily amazements. Interesting note was to learn that Lesotho has now its own independant electricity supply, no more importing of power, all due to the new highland water scheme with power generated and water sold to South Africa.
Since yesterday we have moved north again to visit friends near Zurich; they stayed with us as language students in Perth over the last 6 years or so, usually for a period of anything between 6 weeks to half a year. So the language is back to German, that is Schweizer Deutsch, while most people are very nice to us and actually drop most of the local language, thank you......
We cannot download pictures at this moment, but soon we hope to show you more text with pictures. Next week Tuesday we will drive further south and into Italy.
In between all these activities we still manage to see most of the soccer games. So sad that Australia and Holland were both eliminated, we think that Australia deserved better and I must say that all around Europe the Aussies have gained enormous respect.
Now we wonder how much partying we may find in Italy if they get through all the way......
We have had good luck with the weather so far, only a few days of rain, otherwise nice and warm and lots of sunshine.
More soon.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?